Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stoker: Sometimes You Need to Do Something Bad to Keep You From Doing Something Worse

I keep trying to write a coherent blog post about my experience watching Stoker, but so far I've just started drooling and fantasizing about high heels and shot guns. That makes sense if you've seen Stoker---I'm not like.. into guns. Anyways, I blame this on three things. 1. Stoker is crazy 2. Stoker is awesome and 3. I've been binge watching old episodes of the Canadian teen drama sensation Degrassi before my free trial of Amazon Prime runs out. So while my head wants to focus on Stoker and tell you why it's awesome, my heart is too busy stressing out about the impending school shooting that is going to put poor Jimmy Brooks in a wheelchair. (Jimmy Brooks for all you Non-Degrassi lovers is now known as Drake in the popular world) (Which makes binge watching Degrassi even more hilarious).

SO while I want this post to be really meaningful and deep and smart---I just don't think it's going to happen guys.

Here is what I was able to piece together before drooling and fantasizing about high heels and shotguns. I typed these bullet points before forfeiting my will to think logically. Lets see if it makes sense.

1. Almost every frame of Stoker is like a painting---which makes it difficult to watch when you can't take a screenshot. The movie itself is enigmatic, beautiful and confusing. It's one of those films you may need to watch a few times before you can begin to really grasp its true nature. 

-- I agree with this assessment from myself. Thanks to my recent HBO subscription, I could only watch Stoker on that old thing called the Television. Which was nice, but I couldn't take any fabulous pictures. Although if I could take fabulous pictures then I would have just a series of screenshots that would read kind of as a flip book of the entire movie.

Movies like this tend to make people upset because not everything 'makes sense' in the grand scheme of things. But movies like this aren't supposed to make obvious sense. I think ultimately Stoker  is something you need digest over several viewings until you even begin to understand anything. The first viewing you'll be too busy drooling over the gorgeous shots. The second viewing you'll be too busy attempting to make sense of things but failing. And on the third viewing you start to get things.  Or if you're a 'genius' then you get every single thing the movie is trying to say as soon as you press the STOP button. Note: Anyone who refers to themselves as a 'genius' and puts themselves in this category is by default an idiot because you are wrong.

The film like many of Chan Wook Parks' films is meant to be enjoyed as a fine wine. Or if you prefer non-snobby analogies---the film should just be savored like a really good..............ugh everything I like is snobby. Pair of slippers? Pizza? Yeah. Pizza isn't snobby......but you do want to eat it fast because Pizza is too delicious to savor. OK OK I got it. This movie is designed to be savored. (Forget analogies)

2. Sexually charged--unsettling, uncomfortable.

Apparently, this cut of the film is much less sexually charged than Chan Wook's original cut. Which makes sense if you've seen his other films. This being his first American film--I'm actually quite impressed it still managed to unsettle me in that creepy sexual way. I guess my fear of spiders crawling into my crotch is still not over.

But really---the creepy uncle, the piano playing scene, the shoe handling at the end, the Nicole Kidman, the masterbating in the shower. Whoa guys. Whoa.

And although it's meant to be unsettling it's still insanely beautiful--which I find impressive. Because usually me and uncomfortable sexual situations are all like...

3. Shoes---transition from shoes to heels---girl to woman

Although this idea is really simple in nature, I totally loved it. And while I understand that not every girl transitions to high heels---it's about the symbolism. It's about growing up and realizing that shit, you're an adult now. Which is altogether scary but also exciting which brings me to my next point.

4. To become adult is to become free.

The entire beginning monologue from India is really beautiful but nothing stays with me quite like that last line. While the way that India becomes free is a bit...terrifying, I think in the larger scheme of things it's indicative to how we transition to adults as a whole. While the symbolism of receiving the high heels was the immediate push, the actual push was really her father's death at the beginning of the film. The moment that broke the bond between child and parent. And then the sudden feeling of being 'free' and being able to guide your own path of life. Which includes the very sudden decision India makes at the film's conclusion.  

5. Is something wrong?
Yes. My Father is dead.

Another quote that stuck with me...I love this on so many levels. I can't really explain it other than to say it's perfect. While the housekeeper was simply asking India what was wrong (because she looked faint and weird), India's reply is just..YES.

Alright that is the end of my bullet points. But hey! It's the end of another year. Cheers to Stoker, Degrassi, and more blogging in 2014. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homeland: The Problem with Season 3

***SPOILERS BELOW**** (obviously you guys)

I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. This is most likely due to three reasons: 1. My cat decided that clawing the blinds to death was only fun if she did it every 30 minutes. 2. My socks were too hot (foiled again by the lure of wearing socks to bed *shakes fist) and 3. Feeling strangely hollow after watching the season finale of Homeland. As such, the entire episode kind of felt like a really bad dream which I guess impacted my actual dreams.

Now for the record: I thought the vast majority of this season was excellent. I totally applauded the show for fooling us into thinking Carrie had finally gone AWOL, I loved the double agent aspect--the new characters, and the new locations. But after watching the final episode last night I can't help but feel extremely let down. Not so much by what happened as how it happened. It felt like the entire season finale was just giving up.

The HUGE event that takes place in the first half of the finale was suddenly dissolved into the ominous '4 Months Later' title---the kind of instant flash into the future that sent me into PTSD land thinking back to the embarrassing Harry Potter epilogue. Suddenly, it was like the show took on a whole new level of stagnation. I felt like I was trapped in a bizarro Homeland. Saul was spending time with Mira. Carrie received a startling new promotion and was 'playing nice' with the new asshat director. Saul and Dar were eating waffles together and laughing. What was this place? Everything just felt so forced----and..... neat. Like the little insane ends of Brody's legacy were tied up neatly like little bows on packages. Overall, it just felt like a very lazy way to end the season.

As my sister and I later discussed--it's like they got trapped with Brody, decided he sucked, freaked out, killed him and then tried to hide all the evidence. I'm not sad that Brody is gone. If anything I'm glad that the show finally stopped feeding into Carrie's irrational thinking. By all accounts however sad it may be or 'wrong feeling,' the right path to take was the one that was taken. For once, the show stopped bluffing. It was a moment now looking back that was perfectly foreshadowed by when Carrie gets shot after disobeying orders. There was this whole feeling of, 'Yeah right, they won't really shoot Carrie.......oh.....they shot Carrie" that really speaks to the finale the more I think about it. Did I think that they should kill Brody? Yes. Did I think that they would kill Brody? No.

Anyways here is my ultimate diagnosis of the problem with Season 3  (again, for the most part I liked it).

Brody's legacy should only have lasted till the end of Season 2. Unfortunately due probably to Carrie's obsessed love affair, they decided to keep him in Season 3 at least to tie up loose ends. The problem though was that they put way too much weight on his shoulders. Calling him in for such an important task could only spell doom. Now there was no easy and clean way to get rid of him. They were stuck.

If I had it my way--- Carrie would have discovered that Brody WAS actually responsible for the Langley bombing and then took matters into her own hands by eventually killing him in a dramatic stand off. That way--the truth is out. Carrie is at least assured that 'oh hey he was a terrorist after all, nuts!' and the decision to part ways with the baby in her womb wouldn't have been as difficult to make. Because really who wants a half terrorist baby? Just kidding. But in all honesty this is what I would have liked. Reaffirming the fact that Carrie's life and her decisions remain in her hands.

If you really sit down and think about it though--Brody was hardly in any episodes this season. In fact for a while there I thought they were going to reduce him to a 'Special Guest Star'. And I was fine with it. Long live the spy-filled life of Carrie sans Brody! Viva independence! And luckily now I think that's where the show is probably headed. Carrie takes Istanbul. That is---if the vast majority of  the 'Carrie loves Brody' fan club put their guns down. So anyways, C'est la vie Brods. Here are the 10 things I'll miss most about the Brody family.

1. Jessica's bad haircuts
2. Dana's floppy boots.
3. The uselessness of Chris
4. Chris' 'My Dad doesn't like me face'
5. Damien Lewis' tiny mouth
6. Their Subaru
7. Praying to Allah in the garage
8. Shooting deer at cook outs
9. Awkward sexual tension
10. The regret of never getting to see Chris try dating.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things About: The Witches (1990)

Out of all the movies that I grew up with and continue to be traumatized by, The Witches is probably the one that retains the most creep factor. I'm sure as much as I was terrified by Home Alone and am still terrified by furnaces (and to a lesser extent, old men who shovel snow), the bulk of the population probably does not have an irrational fear of a furnace coming to life and trying to eat them.

I get that.

The Witches however seems to maintain its scare power. Perhaps this is a credit to Roald Dahl's immense power of imagination. Or maybe it's the exquisite performance by Angelica Houston. OR maybe it's the simple idea that somewhere out there is a society of bald headed, square footed witches who all want to kill children and wipe them off the face of the Earth.

And so with that I welcome you to experience a few things that truly make me appreciate The Witches. Even in my….older more….mature years of life I can still say with certainty that this movie is top notch in terms of its power to freak me out.

 How to Spot a Witch

If The Witches taught me anything it was that old women are usually always witches. It also provided every child with a very handy check list on how to spot witches.

   1. Witches have purple eyes

Once a very long time ago, my sister and I were walking into the local CVS when a crazy old woman tried to hit me with her car. She glared right at me after she slammed on her breaks and it was then that my lovely sister decided to point out to me that her eyes were purple. Naturally we still believe this story to this very day. It also explains why old women are usually bad at driving---they're just trying to mow down little children.

   2. Witches have no toes

Unfortunately, witches are very unlucky in the fashion department. Due to the nasty side effect of having no toes and having square feet, the witches are forced to wear ugly old lady square shoes. Again--only more proof that the vast majority of old women are probably witches.

  3.  Witches wear wigs and have terrible scalp rash

Again, I guess I never realized how unkind Roald Dahl was to old women.

4. Witches think children smell like dog poop.

This here is a lose/lose situation for all children. As Luke's grandmother so nicely explains to him before his bedtime, it doesn't matter if you've just had a bath--a witch will smell you anyways. If you're dirty, it's the dirt she'll smell. If you're clean, it's the child she'll smell. See? Lose/lose. Luckily, Luke's grandmother offers the simple solution of bathing only once a month to remain out of the range of a witch's nose.

The Girl in the Painting

I think the very beginning of the Witches might be my favorite. It's all so eerie and sad. It also makes you realize immediately that these witches are terrifying and not to be messed with. Luke's grandmother tells the story of young Erica--a girl who she knew growing up.

That morning Erica's father brought home a lovely painting and then gave her some money to buy some milk.

Unfortunately the only way to get milk is to walk down an extremely creepy and seedy alley. Since it's so creepy, it's a perfect place for a witch to grab a little girl…which is exactly what happens. Well, Erica goes missing naturally and the police begin their search but come up empty. One afternoon, Erica's father comes home and stares wide eyed at the painting on the wall.

There in the painting is Erica herself, looking out the window (while a sad little voice seems to cry 'Papa..")

 Luke's grandmother explains how the little girl in the painting aged with time, and finally one day--the little old woman feeding the ducks just disappeared.

Perhaps it was the idea that you could be trapped in a painting for the rest of your life OR the idea that the creepy painting of a little girl at the top of the stairs in your house was in fact a real girl…whatever the reason, this scene continues to stick with me till this very day.

This Lady's Hair Cut

I think this is the kind of hair cut that only gets better with age. And by better I mean..better to make fun of.

Bruno Jenkins

The character of Bruno Jenkins is essentially one of the greatest of all time. How can you not absolutely adore a fat, snobby child who upon meeting someone for the first time asks a question like, "How much pocket money do you get?" He also utters the brilliant line, "We have three cars"which I think is the perfect thing to say whenever you want to brag about anything. 3 Cars?!

As gross as Bruno is as a child--at least he does have the good fortune of being one hell of a cute mouse.

So, good for him.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

The meeting scene in the Witches is perhaps the most iconic of all scenes. It not only displays the absolutely wonderful skills of Angelica Houston, it also displays the genius of Jim Henson. How much more terrifying can it get after The Grand High Witch removes her mask and wig to reveal THIS.

Oh right…extremely terrifying. Because not long after this, The Grand High Witch decides to BURN A WITCH WITH HER LASER EYES.

All of Them Men

Apparently in the 90s there was a shortage of good bald caps in England. Instead of forcing the women extras to shave their heads--the film decided a cost effective way to fill the room with witches was to use men. I never noticed this as a child (probably too busy peeing my pants over the laser eyes still), but as an adult I can never make it through this scene without dying of laughter due to all the massive men in their dresses. Here are some of my favorites.

Mr. Bean

I'm still confident that this is one of his best roles to date. Nothing beats the look of revulsion on his face after he discovers the patch of hair on his booty calls' neck.

A Happy Ending

At first your body is filled with horror at the idea that one of the witches escaped and is about to do even more damage to poor Luke. She catches us at a vulnerable moment too because we've just spent the past minute crying along with Luke's grandmother as we realize that mice probably don't live long at all. Then she gets out of her car and cackles menacingly while she points her laser green ring right at Luke. Fear not though…She is a good witch because she's blonde and pretty. She also decides to return Luke to his human form, give him back his glasses AND reunite him with his pet mice Wlliam and Mary (who are probably pretty pissed that they no longer get to run around the decaying walls of the hotel. A small taste of freedom….gone). All in all, the ending of the Witches puts a smile on your face. Or it should.

If you're like me, it also makes you excited that one day someone will create a spin off show about Luke and his Grandmother, trying to wipe out all the witches on the planet. Every season would be a new country. Gah! Someone do that.

So what about you my friends? What are your very favorite parts about The Witches?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Conjuring: So Close

So apparently the rumors are true---you should NOT put tin foil in the microwave. And also…The Conjuring is pretty terrifying. Oh and also--if you are not Catholic you are in deep shit.

I think I may be the last person on Earth to see The Conjuring. I'm judging this based on the fact that almost everyone I've come into contact with in the past few months has asked me if I've seen this including: people I work with, my mother's cat and a homeless man on the street corner who looks like Snoop Dogg. Why haven't I seen it? Probably because I heard it was scary and because I just don't have a lot of time in between sitting on my butt watching TV shows and working a job to drag myself to a movie. Also because seeing horror movies in the theater doesn't sit well with my bladder. Loud sounds are no good. No good. Good thing I avoided this when it came out in theaters, otherwise I probably would not be here today to tell the tale.

Although The Conjuring is extremely effective I will still naturally find ways to complain about it. I think though after watching it a second-ish time these are somewhat minor but I find that they contain to irk me. So in case you are one of those people who hates movies that everyone else likes--or a terrorist, just hang out a minute and we'll come to the part where I say things that I didn't like.

For the most part, The Conjuring exists in the James Wan canon as something almost 100% great. For those keeping track. Saw and Dead Silence were and continue to be awful. Insidious was almost really great then totally bombed in the latter half. And now The Conjuring is almost like what happens to a Insidious after it goes through a movie workshop and finally takes my advice. It combined the things I tend to like about a James Wan film with things that are improvements I wish he would make. Yes, things still tend to get a little too complicated but ultimately this is top notch stuff.

My main complaint of Insidious was that there wasn't enough 'quiet' horror going on. Horror that is not supplemented by scary faces, loud crescendos and fake outs. The beginning of The Conjuring however is almost like a perfect example of how to do quiet horror right. I found looking back at a few key scenes, that the ones that left me in the most anguish where ones where we didn't necessarily see or understand what was happening. The best example is probably when Christine wakes up in the middle of night and is traumatized by 'someone standing behind the door'. The other sister Nancy wakes up and tells her nothing is there, but the fear in Christine's eyes is so real we are positive that a scary demon face is going to erupt out of the darkness at any moment. But---it doesn't. Christine continues to be terrified while Nancy stands obliviously in front of the supposed person and/or demon.

That is not to say that the scenes where we do get to see something aren't scary. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this scene

 successfully introduced me to the age old problem of really having to pee but not getting up to go to the bathroom in fear that a scary demon witch is waiting in the shower to kill you. That stuff is and will probably always be terrifying. But I think the mix between kind of an invisible demonic force and a sometimes visible demonic force mostly worked for the film. It was a fairly solid balance that forced you to really be on your highest alert.

I also enjoyed the somewhat unique ways that the commonly scary tropes were used. The clapping game for instance--how torturous! And then the evil music box and its shenanigans. And of course my personal favorite (least favorite) fear---people hanging.

The Conjuring also brings back one of my very favorite horror tropes---creaky doors and random appearances of a child's ball.

Which reminds me--someday when I'm lonely and depressed I think I'll compile a list of all the horror movie nods in The Conjuring. I counted quite a few while not really meaning to. Imagine what would happen if I stopped concentrating on how badly I had to pee and started concentrating on the actual movie and what horror movie it was referencing!

Alright enough lovey dubey crap. A few irksome bits that I need to air out.

1. The very beginning of the film and the continued emphasis of the Anabel doll throughout the rest of the film really bothered me.

I think because the doll and the design of the doll brought me back to the annoyance I felt during Dead Silence. I get that it was used as a way to really bring home the idea of a demonic spirit latching itself onto something and 'infesting' someone's life but it really rubbed me the wrong way. I also hated that part where Bathsheba decided to start terrorizing Lorraine and Ed's daughter and was brushing the dolls hair in the chair. I feel like it totally took away from everything happening in the house. AND it brought the stupid Anabel doll back into the picture. WHY does the Anabel doll have to look like it got into some gothic kid's makeup drawer?

WHY can't they just let a regular doll BE creepy? And while we're at it, who would keep a room full of things possessed by demons in their own home? It's called a storage locker Ed.

2.  The last bit of the film--the 'exorcism' felt a little too chaotic and well….bat shit crazy to me. I think things just got a little carried away. I'm still not convinced that Ed has the power to successfully perform an exorcism and that you can actually conquer a really evil demon by reminiscing about a nice day at the beach. I guess this is no one's fault though--because as much as I loved all the build up it had to go somewhere right? And yes, it was nowhere near as kooky as the end of Insidious but still---vomiting blood etc., yikes.

3. I am sad that the other spirits in the house did not get a lot of attention. Bathsheba ruins everything.

4. I really detested the way that film nicely slipped in the little fact that being baptized and believing in God will help your chances against the devil, Not to mention Ed Warren's little quote at the end that reaffirms the point. It suddenly made me feel like Lorraine and Ed Warren were nothing more than crazy bible thumpers.

And then it made me believe in the 'true story' aspect of the film even less than I already did (which is not much).

5. That reminds me. I think I would have liked this even better if the whole 'true story' propaganda wasn't a major part of the marketing or beginning of the film. The true story edge usually works to a film's favor (Paranormal Activity, the Blair Witch Project) if the events that unfold in the movie still are somewhat believable. If The Conjuring relied heavily on the invisible demons and dark forces I think it would have been OK. But here there's like rotting smelly old demon witches leaping off evil dressers, and really fat ladies in the basement crying about shit---it just makes me feel like hmmm…all the events in this were verified by Lorraine Warren huh? Right…………

So then if there wasn't this whole emphasis on this thing really happening I think I would have been even more scared instead of dubious. You know?

Alright I guess that's enough negativity. Like I said The Conjuring is almost 100% effective. The scares were usually legitimate and always creative. Yes, I was continuously scared out of my mind and had to watch at least 30 minutes of 'I Don't Know How She Does It' before I could turn off the TV and go to the bathroom. Yes, I still am finding it difficult to close my eyes and not see Bathsheba getting ready to vomit blood into my mouth. And yes now I think I will start asking random strangers if they've seen this so we can bond over the fact that we may or may not have pooped our pants.